Review: Stray by Monica Hesse

Image from Goodreads
Title: Stray
Series: Stray #1
Author: Monica Hesse
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication Date: June 2013
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 3/5

Synopsis from Goodreads
Lona Sixteen Always is not herself – quite literally. She lives her life virtually through the experiences of Julian, a boy who was chosen as a role model for the Pathers of Quadrant 1 – troubled children who have been ‘rescued’ by the government and put ‘on-Path’. But one day Lona finds she can think for herself. And on top of that, the face of a familiar boy appears on her screen – Fenn, who she thought had moved on to a different stage of the Path last year. But he didn’t. Fenn and other rebels like him have strayed from the Path, and now Lona must stray too. But life off-Path is strange and difficult, and Lona uncovers a secret that will threaten all their lives. Can there really be life after the Path?

Stray is set in a world where orphans and abused children spend their childhoods on the government-run Path, a virtual reality experience of the ‘ideal’ childhood. This concept of using futuristic technology to solve society’s ills cheaply is both fantastic and increasingly relevant. The path follows the life of Julian, and pathers are monitored by a bureaucratic system of monitors, coping technicians (touchers) and managers.

Sixteen-year-old Lona, the main character, is a normal pather until she goes “off path” for a record ten minutes. As a result, she is sent to be remmersed, to have her memory wiped. On the way she is rescued by her old friend Fenn, who reveals that the path may not be what it seems. Although Lona’s gradual realisation that she cannot trust the path is predictable, the many twists along the way liven it up. The world of the path is fascinatingly in-depth but it does feel slightly under used.

All the characters seem to have good ideas behind them, but they are quite hard to follow as the cast expands continually throughout the book. By the end, this left me quite confused. Also, the plot seems to have a lot of loose strands left at the end of the novel; though perhaps, as there is a sequel, that is deliberate.

I loved Talia as a character, as she was introduced at the beginning but still had an important role to play at the end. As a monitor on the path, she inhabits a slightly different world to Lona’s pathers, separated by an intangible barrier. She also had a more thorough backstory, (understandably) than the other, orphaned, characters. The best part of the tale for me was the beginning, where the story is clear and the brilliant world of the path is emerging.

On the whole, the setting of Stray is great, but some of the characters do not seem to use it to its full potential.

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